Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Running with the Big Dogs
Pam Duncan is the author of Moon Women, Plant Life, and The Big Beautiful, beautifully and sensitively realized stories of women. Fred Chappell is a former NC Poet Laureate, recipient of many prestigious awards including the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and the author of numerous novels and collections of poetry. And there was Ron Rash, poet and novelist, whose Serena I've already said a lot about here and his The World Made Straight here.
The panel was moderated by Newt Smith, professor of English at Western Carolina and the topic was the sense of place in our work -- we all write about the western North Carolina mountains.
I admit to a feeling of being the odd man out, the thorn amidst the roses. These writers are all natives with family ties to the area stretching back for generations -- me, I'm the transplant. And they're all "literary writers" whereas I'm a writer of genre fiction -- just a "paperback writer."
Now, neither the moderator nor any of the panel members made me feel anything less than a colleague and an equal. But I know that the perception exists that genre fiction is somehow lesser than literary fiction -- indeed, that's one reason I chose to write mysteries -- it seemed less daunting.
Genre fiction (and that would include, mystery, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, romance, western and all their sub-categories) briefly, is written and read mainly for entertainment. Literary fiction, on the other hand, has loftier goals -- education and inspiration.
Genre fiction is plot driven -- and the plot can tend to the predictable -- whereas literary fiction is character driven. And, in general, the writing is of a higher standard -- more "literary," in fact.
I loved being on a panel with these folks --and I really didn't feel a need to apologize for what I write. In the end, we're all story tellers, all telling our stories the best we can.
Here's an excellent article on genre fiction vs. literary fiction